Erin Berg was the type of person who, if she saw a hurt bird, picked it up. Or who, if she encountered a spider in the house, carried it outside.
Once at her mother’s house, upon finding a tiny garden snake stuck in an insect trap, Berg spent 15 minutes painstakingly peeling it off, leaving no trace of skin, before releasing the little snake into the yard.
“Erin couldn’t ever find anything wrong in anyone and just always wanted to be like the helper, the fixer,” her mother Kim Thomason said. “She always has been that way since she was a baby — the person trying to help.”
Berg, 36, and her 3-year-old daughter, Mazey Berg, were killed Sunday in a double murder-suicide outside Lawrence, according to law enforcement authorities. The man who shot them before fatally shooting himself was Mazey’s father, Peter Sander, 41.
Berg’s family is planning a celebration of life for both mother and daughter Saturday in Lawrence. Their obituary describes their deaths as the result of “a senseless act of domestic violence.”
Even at just 3 years old, Mazey’s personality was a “clone” of her mother’s, Thomason said.
She recalled a recent time Mazey intervened on behalf of a big black bug she and relatives came across in a doorway, shouting, “Stop, stop, everyone! Don’t crush it, put it outside.”
“She was just like Erin,” Thomason said. “Mazey just was the most affectionate, loving little doll in the world.”
Berg and Sander never married but shared custody of Mazey, Thomason said.
Berg left Sander and moved out of his Lawrence home just over a year ago, Thomason said. Berg and Mazey lived for several months with another family in Lawrence before moving in with Thomason and her husband in Topeka.
Earlier this summer — after careful consideration, to be sure Mazey didn’t get involved with anyone Berg didn’t think was “the one” — Berg and Mazey moved to Maryville, Mo., to be with Berg’s boyfriend, whom Thomason described as her “soulmate” and the love of her life.
On Sunday, Berg had brought Mazey to Lawrence to visit her father.
“It was his week to have her,” Thomason said.
Thomason said Sander had been mentally and emotionally abusive and controlling but that he had never before physically abused Berg or Mazey.
“He loved Mazey, and Erin wanted him to be a part of Mazey’s life. Again, that’s Erin, that loving person that always wanted to keep him included,” Thomason said.
“She told me time and time again, ‘Mom, he’d never hurt her.’”
According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, deputies were dispatched to a shooting about 1:30 p.m. Sunday in the 1000 block of East 900 Road, roughly eight miles southwest of the city limits.
They found Berg, who had been shot several times, in the driveway of a house she had no affiliation with. Berg died at the scene.
Investigators later found Berg’s vehicle in a parking area at the Baker Wetlands, and the bodies of Mazey and Sander not far away.
Investigators believe Sander shot Berg, then drove her car with Mazey in it to the Baker Wetlands, where he shot the child and then himself.
Berg moved to Lawrence in high school, and graduated from Free State High School, her mother said. She was a certified gemologist, and had worked for 18 years at Kizer Cummings Jewelers, 833 Massachusetts St.
When she had Mazey, she became a stay-at-home mom and started cultivating her glass-blowing skills into a business for herself, Wild Plum Glass. Berg specialized in creating custom cremation necklaces and other glass art inlaid with the ashes of loved ones or pets.
Thomason said Berg was empathetic, sincere and genuine, and it showed in her rapport with clients who were grieving themselves.
“She took great pride in that,” Thomason said. “They entrusted their loved ones to her, and she made them very comfortable ... her heart really went into it.”